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Biden ‘Open’ to Funding Study About Slavery Reparations

President Joe Biden talks during a televised town hall event at Pabst Theater, Feb. 16, 2021, in Milwaukee.
President Joe Biden talks during a televised town hall event at Pabst Theater, Feb. 16, 2021, in Milwaukee.

U.S. President Joe Biden is open to studying whether the descendants of enslaved people should get reparations, the White House said Wednesday.

In response to a question about H.R. 40 — a bill floated in Congress for nearly 30 years that would fund a study of slavery and recommend “appropriate remedies” — White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden would support a study.

"He continues to demonstrate his commitment to take comprehensive action to address the systemic racism that persists today,” Psaki said.

But she did not say whether Biden would sign the bill were it to pass.

The proposed legislation, which was being discussed by members of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, was reintroduced by Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee in January.

“Now, more than ever, the facts and circumstances facing our nation demonstrate the importance of H.R. 40 and the necessity of placing our nation on the path to reparative justice,” Lee said Wednesday.

Freshman Utah Representative Burgess Owens, a Republican, argued that reparations would be “impractical,” calling the bill “a nonstarter.”

Though Biden has reiterated his commitment to racial justice in the first month of his presidency, he has never said that he supports reparations.

Around the world, reparations have compensated victims of war and human rights abuses. What exactly they would mean for the descendants of enslaved Americans has not been clearly established on a national level, but more specific examples have been floated in smaller communities.

This week in Athens, Georgia, city commissioners unanimously passed a resolution acknowledging damage done by the city to residents of the Linnentown neighborhood in the 1960s, when property held by members of the predominantly Black community was seized under eminent domain laws to make way for high-rise dormitories for the University of Georgia.

According to Stephanie Allen of the Athens Banner-Herald, seizure of the 22-acre area displaced families and compensated owners with only a small fraction of the estimated property market values.

“It is the first act of reparations to be passed in the GA state,” Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Mariah Parker wrote.

In Florida, a Tallahassee lawmaker proposed starting an education fund for the descendants of African Americans killed, beaten or driven from their homes by white mobs in 1920.

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